Heroin addiction: roadblocks to recovery

Theresa Huffines describes her son, Jacob, as a happy, sociable, and intelligent young man. That is, until he became addicted to heroin at just 18 years old, "I didn't want to believe it. I could not possibly believe it."

Growing up in a military family, Jacob traveled the world with his mom, dad, and sister. He's bilingual, plays the piano, is self-taught on the guitar and mandolin, and he graduated high school early.

Theresa admits, she doesn't know exactly when her son first started using heroin, but there were a number of red flags, "He became very isolated. And that was not like our normal relationship. We were very close, and all of a sudden I wasn't seeing him. He didn't bring friends to the home."

Over the next 8 years, Theresa describes Jacob's deterioration, "There was that period of active use, that I just cried and I remember one time distinctly that he showed up at my house, and he went to give me a hug, and he kind of just dropped on me. It was a very heavy weight and he was so frail. it was just gut wrenching."

And then, there was a turning point. "He called me up, and he was saying 'mom, I have nowhere to go, what do I do?'" remember Theresa, "When an addict wants help, it's not as simple as say, going to the hospital, going to a doctor, saying 'can you get me a bed?' I literally drove from Salisbury, to Cambridge, back to PRMC to Saint Mary's County and around in one day begging for help. Begging…and got nowhere."

Theresa ended up getting Jacob into a facility in Saint Mary's County. But it took two weeks. And now state and local officials on Delmarva say they recognize that this lag time is a major problem that needs to fixed.

"We don't have enough treatment for people when they need it," admits Cindy Shifler with the Wicomico County Health Department. "We certainly have more outpatient services available, but many people, they really require inpatient. And that's what they need. But no, we really don't have enough inpatient at all."

Wicomico County State's Attorney, Matt Maciarello, agrees, "If you say to an addict, 'okay in a week we'll get back to you. Give me your number.' They're not going to have that cell phone. They're not going to be around. They're chasing their next high somewhere. And who knows? They might be overdosed. They might be gone."

Maciarello, tells 47 ABC that local leaders are exploring the possibility of building a state of the art drug rehabilitation facility, which would be similar to the TROSA facility in North Carolina. The TROSA website describes their services as a "therapeutic community" which accepts fulltime rehab residents but also offers continuing care services, like relapse prevention groups, transportation to and from work or school, as well as safe, sober housing at reduced rent.

"24-hour access center for our addicted population until we get this problem under control, that is absolutely critical," states Maciarello.

The state of Delaware is a little further along with similar plans. Because of $4.45 million in state funding approved by Governor Jack Markell, Delaware Health and Social Services is already in the process of expanding the capacity of their treatment centers.

The state's only 24-hour residential treatment facility in Delaware City, is currently full.

"We've known for far too long people would have to leave Delaware to get treatment," admits DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf. "We want to build that level of capacity internally within our state.">

The plan is to move out of the existing 78-bed facility, and make room for 95 beds, by moving 47-beds to the Delaware Hospital for the Chronically Ill, in Smyrna; and by creating three 16-bed facilities in locations across the state. Two of those facilities would be for women and one for men.

For those recovering addicts ready to transition back into the community, the state is doubling the number of sober houses from 60 to 120.

"Those houses have been very successful," says Michael Barbieri, Director of DHSS' Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. "The people are able to stay there for an extended period of time, because it's not driven based on medical necessity. It's just based on the person's need for strength in their support network. They have been very successful, and found that the longer a person is exposed to positive environments the better their chance for ongoing success."

Those suffering with addiction might not have the money to pay for rehab and outpatient services. But the state offers financial assistance if they don't have insurance. And this new system will allow for those in recovery to return for care at anytime if there is a relapse.

"We're trying to create very similar to a medical environment," explains Barbieri, "where a person can move back and forth, getting the level of care they need at that particular time."

Right now, the state of Delaware is accepting bids for construction on these 60 new sober houses across the state. They're hoping to have it all figured out and have people moving into them by the end of the year. But Director Barbieri admits there is no guarantee about where they will be located. That means, it's not clear if, and how many, facilities will be in Kent and Sussex Counties.

Through the work of Maryland's Heroin and Opioid Emergency Task Force $2-million will be going to treatment and prevention services. $800 thousand of which has been allocated to a drug treatment facility in Kent County, Maryland, which will make 40-beds available.

However, 47 ABC spoke with, Leslie Brown, President of Hudson Health Services in Salisbury, MD, the non-profit treatment facility which provides drug treatment for much of the Eastern Shore of Maryland, as well as parts of Delaware and Virginia.

Brown says they will not be seeing any of that state funding. And she says their 42-bed facility, located near Deer's head hospital on Johnson's Lake, is also currently at capacity.

Brown said they could expand their number of available beds but without additional funding, the program would suffer because state funding is not increasing.

Medicaid and most insurance providers will only pay for day treatment outpatient care. The only exception is that medicaid will pay for full inpatient care for young adults between the ages of 18 and 21. Brown says that they recognize the best rates of success depend on extended in-patient care, so Hudson Health has been absorbing the cost for overnight stays, in order for drug addicts to get the care they need.

Aside from the Johnson's Lake facility, Hudson has 3 sober homes in Salisbury. One is state funded for pregnant women and children. The other two recovery houses have 10 beds. One home is for women, and the other for men. These do not get state funding. Hudson also has two halfway houses in Sussex County which does gets state funding from Delaware.

After in-patient detox, Brown tells 47 ABC a licensed clinical social worker will then place the recovering addict in an outpatient program, move them into a transitional living home with support, monitoring and counseling, as well as set them up with outpatient care.

Brown explains that it's all up to the person in recovery, how long they stay at the sober house. They have two weeks to find a job to help pay for reduced rent, which is about $100.

The recommendation for those addicted to opioids, looking for a recovery house, is to first find out if the sober house is accredited. Then the next step is to see if there are support staff members who work there to help monitor those living in the home and that there are rules in place to keep the residents safe and healthy. Also make sure you tour the home to make sure that the people who live there and the services are right for you. The counselors who work at the facility can help you find a sponsor, if you need one, who will help you find a job.

Hudson health is currently in the process of building an outpatient facility near downtown Salisbury, to make outpatient care closer in proximity to the three sober living houses.

As for Jacob, Theresa says her son is currently incarcerated. In the process of getting his addiction treatment, he was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

This is another huge point of contention among health experts and law enforcement. Should those arrested on drug charges be treated for their addiction, rather than punished? That answer and more, in part 3 of this series. Theresa Huffines describes her son, Jacob, as a happy, sociable, and intelligent young man. That is, until he became addicted to heroin at just 18 years old, "I didn't want to believe it. I could not possibly believe it."

Growing up in a military family, Jacob traveled the world with his mom, dad, and sister. He's bilingual, plays the piano, is self-taught on the guitar and mandolin, and he graduated high school early.

Theresa admits, she doesn't know exactly when her son first started using heroin, but there were a number of red flags, "He became very isolated. And that was not like our normal relationship. We were very close, and all of a sudden I wasn't seeing him. He didn't bring friends to the home."

Over the next 8 years, Theresa describes Jacob's deterioration, "There was that period of active use, that I just cried and I remember one time distinctly that he showed up at my house, and he went to give me a hug, and he kind of just dropped on me. It was a very heavy weight and he was so frail. it was just gut wrenching."

And then, there was a turning point. "He called me up, and he was saying 'mom, I have nowhere to go, what do I do?'" remember Theresa, "When an addict wants help, it's not as simple as say, going to the hospital, going to a doctor, saying 'can you get me a bed?' I literally drove from Salisbury, to Cambridge, back to PRMC to Saint Mary's County and around in one day begging for help. Begging…and got nowhere."

Theresa ended up getting Jacob into a facility in Saint Mary's County. But it took two weeks. And now state and local officials on Delmarva say they recognize that this lag time is a major problem that needs to fixed.

"We don't have enough treatment for people when they need it," admits Cindy Shifler with the Wicomico County Health Department. "We certainly have more outpatient services available, but many people, they really require inpatient. And that's what they need. But no, we really don't have enough inpatient at all."

Wicomico County State's Attorney, Matt Maciarello, agrees, "If you say to an addict, 'okay in a week we'll get back to you. Give me your number.' They're not going to have that cell phone. They're not going to be around. They're chasing their next high somewhere. And who knows? They might be overdosed. They might be gone."

Maciarello, tells 47 ABC that local leaders are exploring the possibility of building a state of the art drug rehabilitation facility, which would be similar to the TROSA facility in North Carolina. The TROSA website describes their services as a "therapeutic community" which accepts full-time rehab residents but also offers continuing care services, like relapse prevention groups, transportation to and from work or school, as well as safe, sober housing at reduced rent.

"24-hour access center for our addicted population until we get this problem under control, that is absolutely critical," states Maciarello.

The state of Delaware is a little further along with similar plans. Because of $4.45 million in state funding approved by Governor Jack Markell, Delaware Health and Social Services is already in the process of expanding the capacity of their treatment centers.

The state's only 24-hour residential treatment facility in Delaware City, is currently full.

"We've known for far too long people would have to leave Delaware to get treatment," admits DHSS Secretary Rita Landgraf. "We want to build that level of capacity internally within our state.">

The plan is to move out of the existing 78-bed facility, and make room for 95 beds, by moving 47-beds to the Delaware Hospital for the Chronically Ill, in Smyrna; and by creating three 16-bed facilities in locations across the state. Two of those facilities would be for women and one for men.

For those recovering addicts ready to transition back into the community, the state is doubling the number of sober houses from 60 to 120.

"Those houses have been very successful," says Michael Barbieri, Director of DHSS' Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. "The people are able to stay there for an extended period of time, because it's not driven based on medical necessity. It's just based on the person's need for strength in their support network. They have been very successful, and found that the longer a person is exposed to positive environments the better their chance for ongoing success."

Those suffering with addiction might not have the money to pay for rehab and outpatient services. But the state offers financial assistance if they don't have insurance. And this new system will allow for those in recovery to return for care at anytime if there is a relapse.

"We're trying to create very similar to a medical environment," explains Barbieri, "where a person can move back and forth, getting the level of care they need at that particular time."

Right now, the state of Delaware is accepting bids for construction on these building projects, which they hope to have started by the end of the year. But Director Barbieri admits there is no guarantee about where they will be located. That means, it's not clear if, and how many, facilities will be in Kent and Sussex Counties.

As for Jacob, Theresa says her son is currently incarcerated. In the process of getting his addiction treatment, he was arrested on an outstanding warrant.

This is another huge point of contention among health experts and law enforcement. Should those arrested on drug charges be treated for their addiction, rather than punished? That answer and more, in part 3 of this series.  

Categories: Crime, Heroin Awareness, Local News, Opioid Crisis